U.S. Third Circuit - The FindLaw 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries Blog

Hospital Worker Can't Refuse Flu Vaccine, Court Rules

It's hard to understand how a hospital worker would not believe in vaccinations.

But to each his own, and apparently it wasn't a problem for Paul Fallon when he went to work for Mercy Catholic Medical Center. When Fallon refused to be vaccinated for the flu, however, that was another issue.

The hospital fired him, he sued, and a trial judge dismissed. That would have been the end of the story, but then he appealed to the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals.

Flu Vaccine Essay

In Fallon v. Mercy Catholic Medical Center of Southeastern Pennsylvania, the appeals court had to read an essay to resolve the case. It was Fallon's essay, and it became part of the court record.

Fallon had worked for the medical center since 1994, but in 2012 the employer began requiring employees to get a flu vaccine or request a medical or religious exemption. Fallon submitted an essay describing his "strong personal beliefs" against the flu vaccine.

Basically, he thought it could do more harm than good. It sufficed until 2014, when the hospital said the exemption no longer applied.

He refused to submit, and that led to the Third Circuit. The appellate panel analyzed his claim of religious discrimination.

Religious Discrimination

In his essay, Fallon explained "one should not harm their own body and strongly believes that the flu vaccine may do more harm than good." It would violate his conscience to do so, he argued.

"It does not appear that these beliefs address fundamental and ultimate questions having to do with deep and imponderable matters, nor are they comprehensive in nature," the judges said. "Generally, he simply worries about the health effects of the flu vaccine, disbelieves the scientifically accepted view that it is harmless to most people, and wishes to avoid this vaccine."

Citing decisions in New York, Ohio, and the Second Circuit, the appeals court said it was not the only one to conclude that anti-vaccinations beliefs are not religious.

The Third Circuit did agree with Fallon that the trial court strayed by including his entire essay in the proceedings when he had attached only part of it to his complaint. However, the court said, it did not make a difference in the end.

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